The Outwaters Wasn't Supposed To Be Such An Experimental Film

At first glance, Robbie Banfitch's found footage nightmare, "The Outwaters," may read as experimental. It certainly has to a lot of viewers, and the Letterboxd review section is peppered with the word. But Banfitch, who not only wrote and directed the movie but also starred in it, never viewed the film this way.

"I never thought of 'The Outwaters' as experimental as I was making it," the multi-hyphenate told "Skinamarink" writer-director Kyle Edward Ball in a recent New York Times interview. "The logic of the story — what would be filmed or not in the situation — makes it experimental in parts. But that was never the plan."

The movie's gory descent into hell — which follows a group of friends who set out to film a music video in a secluded region of the Mojave Desert — is a wild ride, the kind of film that needs to be seen to be believed. "The Outwaters" is also the kind of horror feature that requires you to step wholeheartedly into the filmmaker's world. 2023 has already been a great year for that in horror, and it seems that any film with specificity and a touch of the otherworldly is grounds enough to be called "experimental."

I don't necessarily see that as a negative, though, and I don't think I'm alone. "The Outwaters" hit theaters across the United States on February 9 and continues to play in certain cities, which is as good a sign as any for an independent film. Experimental or not, horror lovers will always come out to the theater for a good flick.

What is actually experimental about The Outwaters?

Robbie Banfitch is, of course, right. What he does or doesn't show you is exactly what gives this movie the "experimental" touch, and it forces the audience to do a lot of thinking along with their watching and screaming. It asks you to pay attention and put together the pieces of the puzzle, rather than let the story be spoon-fed to you. In fact, the monster (or whatever it is) in "The Outwaters" wants you to do the work to dissect this cosmic horror mystery.

However, one of the things I love about this idea is that Banfitch claims he didn't really have a working knowledge of cosmic horror to begin with. During the film's theatrical opening weekend, I moderated a Q&A with him at the Alamo Drafthouse in Manhattan, where he said he didn't know much about this subgenre, nor did he set out to make something within the scope of it. I found that particularly interesting, considering how well the film boldly captures the two main tenets of cosmic horror: The confrontation of things unknowable to the human experience, and the cruel brutality of what is beyond our comprehension.

"The Outwaters" stars Banfitch, Scott Schamell, Angela Basolis, Michelle May, and Leslie Ann Banfitch. The film will be available to stream in the United States on February 17, 2023 via Screambox.